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What's Needed: America the Activist, Not America the Bystander

July 20, 2006 By:
M.J. Rosenberg
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 It was the late Yitzhak Rabin's worst nightmare.

Israel is under attack from terrorists based in Lebanon, with Syria and Iran backing the aggression. On top of that, it remains in a state of war with the Palestinians.

This is precisely the situation Rabin strived mightily to prevent by embarking on the diplomatic process with the Palestinians.

In 1993, when Rabin recognized the PLO and began a process designed to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace within five years, he was motivated by the understanding that Israel's survival was no longer threatened by its immediate neighbors.

Rabin's primary concern was Israel's increasing vulnerability to attack -- conventional and ultimately, nuclear, biological or chemical -- from Iraq or Iran, and particularly from Islamic militants allied with the latter, specifically Hezbollah.

Achieving peace with the Palestinians was key to Rabin's strategy for neutralizing those threats. Once Israelis and Palestinians were at peace, outside extremists would lose their pretext for holy war against Israel.

Needless to say, events did not proceed as planned. Rabin was assassinated, the Oslo process collapsed in 2000, a second intifada began, Israel left Gaza unilaterally in 2005, Hamas won the Palestinian elections, and the attacks from Palestinian-controlled Gaza intensified. Since June, Israelis and Palestinians have essentially been at war. Israelis are terrorized by Kassam rockets launched from Gaza while a humanitarian disaster has been inflicted on the Palestinians.

And then, as Rabin foresaw, radical elements from outside seized the opportunity to launch their own attack on Israel, with rockets now falling on Nahariya and, most frighteningly, on Haifa, which until now had been out of reach of Hezbollah's missiles.

The Hezbollah leadership claims it is acting in solidarity with the Palestinians of Gaza. This is, of course, a lie. The terrorists of Hezbollah have never demonstrated any particular concern for the Palestinians.

The attacks on northern Israel are not about the Palestinians. Nor are they the result of any legitimate grievance Hezbollah may have with Israel -- there are no such grievances! Neither Hezbollah or Lebanon have outstanding claims against Israel.

No, the attacks on Israel from Lebanon are a traditional unprovoked act of aggression. Hezbollah's goal is to instigate a general conflagration that would lead to Israel's destruction. Hezbollah has no goal but terror and destruction, which constitute both its means and its ends. The Syrians, and especially the Iranians, have their own goals, and are using Hezbollah to advance them.

Overall, the situation is clear-cut. This is not one of those disputes where each side has a point of view and a solution can be found somewhere in the middle.

The United States and the international community need to advance a new U.N. resolution to restate the demand that Hezbollah disarm, release Israeli hostages, and that both sides establish a full cease-fire. In the meantime, Israel has the obligation to defend its people against this nihilistic and pointless violence while, as President Bush stressed, not taking actions that would destroy Lebanon's survival as a fledgling democracy.

The world cannot simply look away, nor can it fall into the old pattern of blaming Israel for defending its own people. If it does and this newest chapter of the Arab-Israeli conflict is allowed to spin further out of control, we could be looking at a major war.

The United States certainly has the standing and the know-how to help Palestinians achieve their state -- and Israel achieve security. These two are not mutually exclusive, but rather, mutually reinforcing. Neither people can achieve its goals while at war with the other.

But first the violence has to stop.

There is simply no excuse for the United States to stand on the sidelines. Our fundamental interests are at stake, including the security of 135,000 American soldiers whose lives will become even more precarious if the entire region descends into chaos. That means helping Israelis and Palestinians achieve a cease-fire and the resumption of efforts, unilateral and bilateral, to establish a modus vivendi, if not peace.

This has been a terrible week, but without resolute action by America, we are going to see much worse. The United States must stand with Israel in this dangerous moment. But that requires leadership to help resolve the situation responsible for it.

M.J. Rosenberg is director of policy analysis at the Israel Policy Forum.

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